Benefits of Private LTE Networks in IoT Testing Environments

Eseye author


IoT Hardware and Connectivity Specialists


In many ways, testing is the most crucial stage of the design life cycle. IoT devices need to perform seamlessly as soon as the end user opens the box, but it’s difficult — sometimes impossible — to test every use case scenario on a public LTE network.  

Often IoT devices are manufactured in countries with no public LTE bands in common with the country of deployment, and third-party test labs are an expensive way to discover problems that could have been caught in QA. 

On the other hand, a custom, private LTE network allows for infinite testing configurations in a secure, controlled environment. Private networks reduce project risk, expedite development and ultimately deliver a better consumer experience.

Paul Marshall, Eseye’s CCO and one of the company’s co-founders, joined Eseye Solutions Architect Director Marco Parmegiani on a recent webinar about the real-world applications of private LTE network testing. Not only does a private network overcome many of the challenges of stress testing and measuring device performance, but it also provides the controls to remove any ambiguity over test results. 

As regulatory demands for IoT device testing become more stringent, private networks will likely be a necessity for large-volume production. Here are five business advantages for company leaders to consider. 

Navigating the IoT device certification process is a confusing web of regulatory requirements and telecom provider specifications. In particular, approval from the PCS Type Certification Review Board (PTCRB) is mandatory for devices on member cellular networks, and certifications require comprehensive testing at PTCRB-approved labs. Some networks, including Verizon, have their own processes for open development device certification. 

Device developers, of course, are the ones picking up the tab for access to the required testing facilities.

“Actually taking a device to the test house and then finding that there’s an issue and having to take it away, that can potentially be not only very expensive, but it can also lead to delays because, to get back in the lab, you’ve got to wait for another vacant slot,” Paul advises. 

Regulatory requirements are likely to increase in the future — the European Cyber Resilience Act is one such framework expected to impact manufacturers in the next few years.  

Investing in a private network now will give companies the ability to troubleshoot in every conceivable testing environment prior to scheduling an appointment with a third-party lab. 

Public LTE networks vary in bandwidth and connectivity throughout the day, which in turn affects upload speeds, latency and other performance metrics on an IoT device. When testing, there’s no way to control these parameters on a public network. If an error occurs under certain conditions, testers may not be able to replicate the bug or collect sufficient data as to what went wrong. 

In contrast, a private network gives complete control over the testing environment and allows for different iterations of the same corner cases — those problems that occur outside of normal operating conditions.

“Private networks remove any ambiguity over test results because a test can be repeated in exactly the same conditions,” Paul says. This applies not only to device connectivity but also its battery life.  

Especially for consumer products, battery performance is a make-or-break feature of an IoT device. But battery life is a complicated metric. Around the world, various network configurations have different power-saving modes and eDRX (extended discontinuous reception) features that will impact device power consumption. In the case of wearables, users will subject the device to a wide range of environmental conditions and frequent switching between Wi-Fi and mobile networks.  

Cellular performance also depends on the strength of the signal, with weaker signals consuming more power supply.

Sometimes there’s an immense practicality to scripting these different scenarios in a controlled private network environment rather than trying to test them in the wild. Paul gives the example of a robotic lawn mower. “We can actually run the tests that we want to run with the device securely fixed on a test bench,” he says. 

Once a device goes into production, manufacturing facilities commonly do not have access to a test network. It could be that there’s poor mobile service in the factory, but we often see that production lines are located in countries with no LTE bands in common with the deployment country. 

For example, China manufactures Cat-M1 devices for low-power wide-area networks, but there are no Cat-M1 networks in China. On top of that, mobile network operators can only provide the frequency bands they have licenses for, making it impossible to test the full spectrum of global frequencies within a single public network. 

This testing environment isn’t just valuable before deployment. QA in different connectivity environments can help discover bugs in firmware updates before a mass rollout.  

Functionality testing isn’t the only way private networks reduce risk. A controlled lab environment is ideal for data security. 

“If the device connection is going to load application authentication information, keys or certificates, that data can only be accessed when using the test network,” Paul says. In addition to restricting access for cybersecurity, a small network radius has built-in physical protections.  

A test network typically only covers about 200 square meters (2,150 square feet). Even if a bad actor wanted to hack into the network, they’d have to be physically in the building to collect identity information.

So how do you set up a private LTE network for testing? In many cases, companies will need a separate test network SIM card that can provide the relevant security keys to the modem. For products with integrated SIMs, it’s also possible to use an eUICC that delivers a test profile. 

Eseye provides encrypted test profiles. If you don’t already have a private LTE network, we can connect you with a supplier or rent you a fully supported test network.

This article is based on an Eseye webinar, The Importance of Private Network Testing. View the full presentation for more IoT insights, and connect with Eseye to see how our experts can drive your business forward. 

Eseye author


IoT Hardware and Connectivity Specialists


Eseye brings decades of end-to-end expertise to integrate and optimise IoT connectivity delivering near 100% uptime. From idea to implementation and beyond, we deliver lasting value from IoT. Nobody does IoT better.

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